Bears

GM Ryan Pace grateful for contract extension but knows 'I have to do a better job'

GM Ryan Pace grateful for contract extension but knows 'I have to do a better job'

While the immediate attention is necessarily riveted on the candidates for and process of selecting the 16th head coach in franchise history, the underlying and more intense glare now turns to Ryan Pace, the first-time general manager hired to be the architect of a franchise turnaround that failed to materialize under the coaching of John Fox.

Pace’s was a situation with some complexity for the organization, specifically with respect to contracts. Pace finished the 2017 with two years remaining on his contract but was now moving into a search for a coach who will come with a minimum of a four-year contract, possibly five depending on the market and the coach’s pedigree.

Accordingly, President Ted Phillips announced an extension of Pace’s contract through the 2021 season, a contract extension for a general manager with a 14-34 record – the same mark that got his head coach fired.

The extension does send a message of continuity and stability to prospective coaching candidates, who can now conclude that their boss has the backing of his bosses. “To know that the organization is behind the general manager is important,” Phillips said.

The Bears have had GM-coach contracts out of phase in the past and it has created issues, though more typically where the coach is in place when a new GM is hired. Jerry Angelo inherited Dick Jauron in 2001, was expected to dismiss Jauron after that season, only to have the Bears surprise the NFL (and Angelo) with a 13-3 playoff season that effectively forced Angelo to extend Jauron in what proved to be some of the most acrimonious Bears negotiations of the last quarter-century.

Angelo was fired in 2012, leaving coach Lovie Smith in place for incoming GM Phil Emery. Emery summarily fired Smith after a 10-6 season because of continuing failure to reach the postseason.

Pace said the decision on Fox was not finalized until late Sunday night, in the aftermath of the loss at Minnesota. The move was clearly an emotional one for Pace, whose relationship with the veteran head coach was very good, beginning with Pace making the trip to Denver for the second 2015 hiring interview with Fox.

And Pace did not scapegoat or dump the failures of the past three years on Fox.

“I point the finger at myself as well,” Pace said. “But I feel good about where we are, better than I felt at this time last year,” adding “I have to do a better job

Tough eval

Fox correctly characterized the NFL as a results-based business. Pace’s results have been the concurrent with Fox’s, each making notable mistakes on the way to compiling one of the worst three-year marks in franchise history.

The full effect of Pace’s personnel acquisitions is difficult to fully assess if only because of significant injuries to two of the three most important additions of his regime, a tenure that has seen some three dozen players on injured reserve by the ends of the last two seasons.

“[The injury wave] is something that’s occurred for three consecutive years,” Pace said, noting that efforts had been made to change the strength, conditioning and nutrition aspects of the Bears’ program. “It’s something we’ve got to get on top of.”

In the cases of the top picks, these are unequivocally the foundation players for a franchise and the Bears have not seen the return from them, through no fault of the players:

Wide receiver Kevin White, No. 7-overall pick of the 2015 draft, who has just 5 starts, 21 catches and three broken bones in three years to show for his three NFL seasons. If there is anything encouraging it is that White has averaged 4 catches per game, respectable for someone who missed their entire rookie season; and… .

Linebacker Leonard Floyd, No. 9-overall pick of the 2016 draft, who missed games at three different times in his rookie season, which ended with a concussion in game 15, and went on IR this season and missed the final six games with a knee injury. “I’m doing good,” Floyd said on Monday. “I’ve got a good rehab process planned out. I plan on sticking to it and getting back.”

Pace now will be drafting in the top 10 (he traded up from 11 to 9 to grab Floyd) for the fourth straight year. This guarantees and means nothing in terms of talent acquisition, except that there hasn’t been enough of it. The Detroit Lions had top-10 picks for six straight years (2002-07), six years amid a run of 10 straight seasons with losing records.

High-dollar mistakes

Curiously, Pace has enjoyed more success in his three drafts than in his three years of work in free agency, even though his background is more on the pro-personnel side. “It’s not a business where there is a 90-percent success rate,” Phillips said, mentioning 60 percent as perhaps a more realistic standard.

On Pace’s watch, the Bears have committed tens of millions of dollars on free agents who, for reasons of age, simple performance, injury, fit or whatever, failed to deliver play levels even remotely close to value for the money. Foremost among them and their (guarantees):

Marcus Cooper, CB ($8 million) – opening-day starter, injured, lost starting job, notable for slowing down short of end zone vs. Pittsburgh and being overtaken.

Mike Glennon, QB ($18.5 million) – former Tampa Bay backup, lost starting job after four games, never took another ’17 snap. “With the quarterback position, I have no regrets in us being aggressive in attacking that position; it’s that important,” Pace said. “We all felt confident in Mike and sometimes in our business, things don’t work out. There’s a lot of factors involved. But fortunately for us, being aggressive at that position, in essence we took two swings.”

Pernell McPhee, OLB ($15.5 million) – No. 1 UFA target in ’15, impact player but could not get beyond knee, shoulder injuries, started just 17 games, 14 total sacks in 3 seasons.

Antrel Rolle, S ($4.9 million) – started 7 games, zero INT’s, 1 pass defensed, swore revenge on Bears after 2016 release but no one signed him.

Dion Sims, TE ($10 million) – 15 receptions, 180 yards and 1 TD in 14 starts; roster decision in Mar. when $4 million of $6 million ’18 base becomes guaranteed.

Pace and lead negotiator Joey Laine have been credited for doing a number of one-year, “prove it” deals (e.g., CB Prince Amukamara, K Connor Barth, DL John Jenkins, WR Kendall Wright). But if the best thing you can say about a contract is that it is relatively easy to get out of, the inescapable conclusion also is that you have not done that deal with anyone who qualifies as a building block for your franchise.

“Free agency is high risk and we understand that,” Pace said. “As we continue to build more through the draft, we can become more selective in free agency.”

Trubisky believes Bears will stand for national anthem

Trubisky believes Bears will stand for national anthem

Mitch Trubisky met with reporters after OTAs on Wednesday and addressed the NFL owners' unanimous approval of a new national anthem policy that requires players to stand if they are on the field while it's performed. If they don't want to stand, they can remain in the locker room or teams will be subject to fines.

The Bears avoided the media firestorm around the national anthem last season. No one on the roster kneeled. Instead, teammates locked arms and Trubisky believes it will be more of the same in 2018.

"I’m just proud of how our team handled last year. It's in the past and I believe we’ll all stand on the field together this year," Trubisky told reporters at Halas Hall. "It is what it is. I think it’s all about eliminating distractions for the team and for the audience. Just represent yourself and the organization in the right manner.”

STANKEVITZ: NFL Anthem policy won’t keep Sam Acho, others from standing up for what they believe in

Trubisky is the unquestioned leader of the Bears, only one year removed from Mike Glennon's proclamation that this was his team. Now, with a new coach and elevated expectations, Trubisky must weather the off-field issues that naturally come with a leadership role.

No off-field issue is bigger than a comment by the President of the United States, which happened Thursday in response to the national anthem policy during in an interview on "Fox and Friends".

“Well, I think that’s good. I don’t think people should be staying in locker rooms. But still, I think it’s good," Trump said. "You have to stand proudly for the national anthem, or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.” 

This is an issue that isn't going away anytime soon. Fortunately, Trubisky appears ready to shoulder the heavy burden and potential strain a social issue like this can bring to a locker room. 

Bears coaching upheavals portend inevitable stumbles

Bears coaching upheavals portend inevitable stumbles

Call it a small Bears reality check, if not a full wake-up call, then at least a nudge in the night. And this sort of thing should be expected, not just in OTAs, not just in training camp or preseason, but when it all counts.

And it should serve as a lesson of sorts. Because some of the underlying reasons are worth a little highlighting and patient understanding around a team that has spent its offseason and millions of dollars refashioning an offense, beginning with coach Matt Nagy and coordinator Mark Helfrich, and that offense wasn’t particularly good on Wednesday.

In a sport where the operative cliché is “just get better each and every day,” the Bears didn’t, but as far as their coach is concerned, “there’s two ways to look at it,” Nagy said. “Whether you say on our side, on offense, trying to see a bunch of different looks a defense can give you, is it too much or not? It’s good for us. It’ll help us out in the long run. It’s good for our players and they’ve handled it well. There’s going to be mistakes but they have it on tape to be able to look at. “

This is about more than just a few bad reps or missed assignments. It’s part of the good-news-bad-news reality that a sea change brings to a team.

The good news is that the Bears have a new coaching staff on offense.

The bad news is that the Bears have a new coaching staff on offense.

The Bears defense is predictably ahead of the offense, hardly a surprise, given that most of the core of the top-10 unit has remained in place. That said, you do have to like the attitude of the barely-above-rookie No. 1 quarterback challenging that assessment Wednesday, with a “Who says that?”

This while the offense has myriad moving and new parts, and interceptions, blown plays and such were occurring for an offense that, like Halas Hall, is a massive building work in progress.

“Well, today was a bad ‘build,’ but that’s to be expected,” Helfrich acknowledged. “We’re adding a chunk each day, I thought today was the first day where we had somebody do something that just like, ‘wait, OK’ – a few positions here and there, a few new guys, obviously a few veterans here and there that it’s all new to, hit the wall.”

It’s a “wall” that arguably is inevitable with a coaching change.

Not to make excuses, but….

For a sense of perspective, scroll back to Jay Cutler, who went through offensive coordinators perhaps faster than he went through socks: a year with Ron Turner, two with Mike Martz, one with Mike Tice, two with Aaron Kromer, one with Adam Gase, one with Dowell Loggains, who at least was a holdover from the Gase year. (Whether Cutler’s failure to match potential with production was the cause of or because of that turnover, this humble and faithful narrator leaves to you, the reader).

More than a few current Bears can only dream of that kind of “stability.” And because of that, the 2018 pre- and regular seasons may be bumpier than the optimism surrounding the Nagy hire was anticipating.

Guard Kyle Long, still not practicing full-go while he rehabs from surgeries, is on his fifth offensive-line coach in six NFL seasons. Center Cody Whitehair, who has started every game since the Bears drafted him in the 2016 second round, has had three different line coaches in as many seasons: Dave Magazu for 2016, Jeremiah Washburn for 2017 and now Harry Hiestand. Left tackle Charles Leno was drafted in 2014, making Hiestand Leno’s fourth O-line coach.

And this is the offensive line, the unit that most engenders use of the term “continuity.”

“Each coach brings in a little bit, different techniques,” Whitehair said. “There’s a lot of time for us to hone in and get to know what he’s trying to teach us. But in the end it’s still football.”

Kevin White is entering his fourth NFL season. He is on his fourth receivers coach (Mike Groh, Curtis Johnson, Zach Azzanni, Mike Furrey) and third different season-starting quarterback (Jay Cutler, Mike Glennon, Mitch Trubisky), not including offseason battery mates ranging from Jimmy Clausen, Brian Hoyer, David Fales and Connor Shaw, depending on how much rep time he spent with which unit at various times during his training camps.

“It doesn’t matter,” White said. “Roll with the punches, come here and do my job every day.”

Regardless of how many bosses you’ve reported to.